The Utah Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that its preferred option for Little Cottonwood Canyon is to build a gondola down the 8-mile canyon.
The decision, which has been in the making for years, raises numerous questions about the future of the canyon and the Wasatch Front.
Here’s what we know and what remains unclear following Wednesday’s UDOT ruling.
What’s next for the canyon?
Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t mean the decision is set in stone.
Along with the ruling, UDOT announced a 45-day public comment period beginning September 2nd and ending October 17th. To submit a comment, go to littlecottonwoodeis.udot.utah.gov. UDOT will collect these comments and issue a “Decision Log” sometime this winter.
In the meantime, UDOT says it wants to introduce smaller steps to solve traffic problems, such as the construction of mobility hubs and the expansion of bus services. Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, an environmental advocacy, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that the phased approach is a way to show policymakers there are alternatives to solving the canyon’s transportation problems.
“If you don’t want to see a gondola in those canyons, we’re taking this opportunity to use the transit,” Fisher said.
How much will this gondola cost?
According to EIS released Wednesday, the Nacelle B option would cost around $550 million, plus operation and maintenance costs of $3 million per summer and $4 million per winter.
Expanding the roadway for dedicated bus lanes would cost the state about $510 million in initial capital, plus $11 million per winter in operating and maintenance costs. The wider lane was the other option UDOT considered ahead of Wednesday.
Wednesday’s EIS included the estimated price tags for other options, such as expanded bus services without lane widening and a rack railway system. It is estimated that these options would cost the state $355 million and $1.064 billion, respectively.
Who benefits from a gondola?
The two facilities that would benefit most from a gondola are Little Cottonwood Canyon’s resorts – Snowbird and Alta. Both would have a taxpayer-funded system to bring customers directly to their businesses when the system is built.
Snowbird formed a group called the Gondola Works, which Alta later joined to sell the gondola to the public as the best option for the canyon.
Which groups have paid to promote and oppose the channel?
In addition to Alta and Snowbird, Gondola Works also owns Exoro Group, a public policy firm, and Love Communications, a public relations and marketing firm.
Maura Carabello, president of Exoro Group, a public policy firm, previously told The Tribune her agency was hired by Snowbird to work on the Gondola Works. Tom Love, President and Founder of Love Communications, previously said his company handles the placement of Gondola Works ads on television, radio, billboards, social media and direct mail.
Fields, Carabello and Love declined to share details of Gondola Works’ finances with The Tribune earlier this month.
The non-profit Friends of Little Cottonwood Canyon oppose the gondola. The group, which consists of four board members and a team of volunteers, has been accepting donations and paying lobbyists in hopes of dissuading lawmakers from a gondola.
“We have known from day one that this is going to the legislature, so we are committed to educating lawmakers involved in the decision-making process why this is not a good idea,” Michael Marker, Friends of the LCC President , The Tribune said earlier this month.
The group, which established a political action committee in 2021, has paid at least $30,000 to lobbyists since its inception, according to campaign funding reports.
Where is the gondola station going and who owns the land?
The proposed gondola station would be just off State Route 210 near the mouth of the canyon. The latest EIS said the base station would include a large parking structure with up to 2,500 parking stalls, a significant increase from a previous EIS which said the structure could accommodate 1,500.
Last fall, Snowbird quietly bought two pieces of land on which to build the gondola base station. Dave Field, Snowbird’s general manager and president, told The Tribune the resort made the purchase to ensure the gondola would remain a viable option for UDOT.
Will there be further developments around the station?
Probably not at the moment, but that can always change.
Prior to Snowbird’s purchase, the nacelle properties were owned by CW Management Corp, a development company led by Chris McCandless, a developer and former Sandy City Councilman, and Wayne Niederhauser, a former Utah Senate President who now serves as the state’s homelessness coordinator , Founded .
CW Management still owns an 8 acre property directly south and west of the nacelle properties. The land, which is within the Cottonwood Heights city limits, is earmarked for single-family homes, according to the city’s website.
McCandless told the Tribune in July that he intended to develop the land for single-family homes rather than attempting to repurpose the area for commercial development. He called this speculation to the public a “nice rumor”.
“I’ve said that 1,000 times … We intend to leave the zoning as is,” McCandless said in July.
Can the gondola still be stopped?
As of now, a gondola ride down Little Cottonwood Canyon is a long way off.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson urged the public to voice their concerns about UDOT in hopes of preventing the nacelle from becoming a reality.
“I have a call for action to the public and that is please go to the UDOT website. If you share my concerns about the cost and impact on the canyon, submit a report,” Wilson said during a news conference Wednesday. “Tell them what you’re worried about.”
Fisher sees the phased approach to tackling the canyon’s transportation problems as an opportunity for public transit to shine.
“It feels like we have a real chance to see how buses can work with this phased approach,” he said Wednesday.
The decision on whether or not the gondola will become a reality rests with the Utah legislature. State legislatures must pass legislation to fund the project, which is estimated to cost at least $550 million in taxpayer dollars. In theory, the legislature could pass legislation contrary to UDOT’s recommendation and opt for a different solution for Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Will hundreds of people ride a gondola to Alta and Snowbird in the future? It’s hard to say, but it seems likely.
https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/09/01/udot-prefers-gondola-little/ UDOT prefers a gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon. What’s next? Here are some answers.